Where Damon Stoudamire gets his pot.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Walk It Off

Tomorrow I hope to live blog the Lakers/Celtics Christmas Day match because: (a) this is the best holiday game we've seen from a pure basketball standpoint; (b) my undergraduate degree has been completed and affords me an inordinate amount of time to dedicate to basketball; and (c) I have nothing better to do on Jesus' birthday.

(As a little sidenote I'm staying with parents and our basement is outfitted with a large flat-screen television, a serious upgrade from the used television I bought in September and the crumby streaming video I watch online. Plus we get ABC in High-Definition. I might have to move back in with my parents.)

I can't think of a more hyped regular season game - one in which the two teams have a combined record of 50 wins and 7 losses - than tomorrow's Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers tilt. Right now head honcho David Stern must be licking his chops in anticipation. The only thing which could wipe the miniscule smile from Stern's face is a potential Garnett/Vujacic fourth-quarter throwdown in which Garnett yanks the Slovenian machine by his dark locks.

Coming into this game you can't deny that the Celtics remain the favourite to beat the Lakers. They have the better record, a mental edge from last season's win, and improved play from their role players. But I'm going to make a case for the Lakers as the better team. (Make note that I cringe at this thought, but as somewhat of a closeted Lakers fan - and someone who has a growing disdain for Garnett's posturing - I'll play the role of Devil's Advocate.)

Deeper Bench. The Lakers have gotten considerably deeper with the improved health of Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, the latter of whom provides a nice pop of offense at 9 points per contest and a shade under 2 steals. With Bynum you get the low-post presence sorely missed when the Lakers got manhandled in the Finals.

When Farmar gets healthy - and he'll be missed tomorrow against a surging Rajon Rondo - the Lakers can throw both a veteran point guard and young guy with enough quickness and energy at Rondo. It's quite easy to make the case that Rondo's the best guard on either teams. But I think Farmar - who possesses truer point guard instincts and a far better jumper than Rondo - has the mental fortitude to play on Rondo's level and exceed it. Plus who backs up Rondo? Eddie House? His ballhandling abilities are more suspect Michael Jordan's managerial decision-making.

When you look at the Celtics roster, the only players who have made a leap in their play are Rondo and Kendrick Perkins - both starters propelled to the level of fellow starters Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. But guys like Leon Powe and Glen Davis haven't made any big leap. Who is the Celtics best bench player? Tony Allen? I can't find a star player on that bench, just a couple guys who sometimes have a break-out game.

The Lakers, on the other hand, can throw out Lamar Odom as a sixth-man when most teams in the NBA would use him as their de facto second-option. (I really hesitate to call Odom a big factor for the Lakers after his levels of Romo-esque choke jobs, but I do like him taking on a lesser role in their game plan. Mentally Odom is missing something - as opposed to, say, Garnett or Kobe - thus less pressure to perform will probably help him.) Mid-way or far down the bench you'll find two three-point specialists in Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic, both of whom would see significantly more burn on a team with Boston's depth. Throw in Ariza and, hopefully, a healthy Farmar and you've got a ridiculous amount of bench versatility.

Age. Yes, Rondo and Perkins have improved their play and clock in at youthful ages, but the undisputed top three players - Allen (33), Garnett (32), and Pierce (31) - carry major mileage (this is Garnett's 14th season) and probably face upwards of 100 games this season. This all becomes problematic when you factor in a weak bench which requires Allen - the most ravaged veteran from an injury perspective - to play upwards of 37 minutes per night. If Allen goes down you end up losing 19 points per and I hardly see Tony Allen filling that role with any success.

As for the Lakers, most of their key guys - Kobe (30), Gasol (28), Bynum (21) - fall on or below that 30 years of age threshold, which, in the world of basketball, is a pretty good barometer for a player's decline.

Slipping under the radar. Many of these historic regular season teams end up accumulating so much hype and expectation that crumbling under its weight becomes inevitable. The Mavericks recent 67-win season didn't end up going so well. The Pistons in recent memory posted a mid-60s win total but also bowed out early. Look at other sports too. Last year's Patriots team had so much expectation thrust upon them after going undefeated in the regular season, yet, when it comes down to it, the regular season doesn't mean jack if you can't win in the postseason. You can't look at that Patriots team and call it a success because they loss when it mattered.

With the Celtics posting the greatest start in league history and closing in on a 20-game win streak, Boston is poised to become a national story. To sustain that expectation for upwards of 100 games will be a difficult task for a team with aging stars and a shallow bench. Perhaps for the first time in ages the Lakers will end up going under the radar, an enviable position when they head into the playoffs. All the distractions that come along with being the NBA's top team - and a historic one to boot - could end up crippling a The Big Three who, combined, has as many rings as Kobe. Both teams know what it takes to win a championship, but only Kobe, at this time, knows how to repeat. (Although he did ride Shaq's coattails to an extent.)

Please. Argue with me on this.

No comments: